2023 Road to Dakar races include W2RC legs, South Africa

As the premier rally raid, it goes without saying that making the Dakar Rally is a tall order for many. However, the Amaury Sport Organisation wants to see as many new faces, even if amateurs or racers without factory backing, as possible competing alongside the mainstays—provided they are qualified to race, of course.

This is exemplified with the Road to Dakar, a programme that grants free admission to the Dakar Rally for privateers with no prior experience in the race if they stand out at select events. Such a prize is a major boon for amateur competitors who would otherwise have to pay for the entry fee. Limitations are implemented such as barring those who have finished in the top ten in any FIM championship standings, FIA priority-classified drivers, and factory racers from winning the invite even if they never raced at Dakar.

Although the free access is the defining feature of the Road to Dakar, the programme also allows rookies to earn their places by qualifying with their finishes. This means those who previously raced at Dakar in other classes can also be recognised as Road to Dakar recipients, such as Toomas Triisa entering the 2017 Dakar Rally in Malle Moto but earning the ticket for the 2023 Rally in the T4 class. Entrants who receive the invitation may use it on the upcoming Rally or wait until next year’s edition, a method employed by James Hillier after qualifying at the 2021 Andalucía Rally but electing to run the Dakar Rally in 2023.

For 2023, all four rounds of the World Rally-Raid Championship after the season-opening Dakar Rally are Road to Dakar legs: the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge on 26 February to 3 March, the Sonora Rally on 24–28 April, Desafío Ruta 40 on 26 August to 1 September, and Rallye du Maroc on 12–18 October. The TGRSA 1000 Desert Race returns as an eligible race despite not being on the W2RC calendar, instead serving as the premier round of the South Africa Rally-Raid Championship.

The Atacama Rally and Andalucía Rally have been dropped from the programme. The latter’s disappearance is in conjunction with its removal from the W2RC schedule.

“This year again, the Road to Dakar label races will accompany you throughout the season to allow you to train or qualify or to win your registration for the Dakar,” explains a pamphlet. “New this year, the races that are part of the Road to Dakar will be given a label according to their characteristics and potential.”

The four W2RC races offer the Road to Dakar for Bikes, and all but the Sonora Rally also do so for T4 entries. The TGRSA 1000 Desert Race is limited to Cars. The Desafío Ruta 40 does not give the free invite to Bikes, a caveat that the Andalucía Rally did not have in 2022 as neither are desert-based races like Dakar.

Bike and Quad riders must submit their 2024 Dakar Dally applications, which includes a dossier of their backgrounds, by 20 July 2023, from which they are subject to a selection process. Even when accepted, they can clinch their grid spots via the Road to Dakar.

2022 Road to Dakar awardees racing at the 2023 Dakar Rally include Triisa, Stéfano Caimi, and Ruben Saldaña Goñi (Rallye du Maroc); Ottavio Missoni Jr. (Andalucía Rally); David Pearson (Sonora Rally); and Luis Diaz Soza (Atacama Rally).

Road to Dakar legs

# Race Date Classes
1 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge 26 February – 1 March Bike, T4
2 Sonora Rally 24–28 April Bike, T4
3 TGRSA 1000 Desert Race 23–25 June Car
4 Desafío Ruta 40 26 August – 1 September Bike*, T4
5 Rallye du Maroc 12–18 October Bike, T4
* – Cannot win Dakar entry